By Sue Nilson Kibbey
As an adjunct instructor at United Theological Seminary, I teach a course for Master of Divinity students called Leadership for Ministry. Most in my classroom already pastor local churches, so during the semester I hear stories of their victories and challenges. Through them all runs a common theme: the ability (or inability) to lead successful change. To articulate and then direct the way on paths of changespiritual, missional, and organizationalis often intimidating and unfamiliar to both the leader and the people, even though Gods vision of a new destination may be appealing. The willingness of the leader to courageously undergo and lead healthy change always ends up as the make or break point for ongoing ministry effectiveness.
I was catapulted into a personal, foundation-shifting awareness about the dynamics of the process of change late last year. After a two-year dance with colon cancer, my husband took a downward health spiral and was suddenly gone. To some looking on from the outside it likely appeared that his death, while significant, was the only difference in my daily circumstances. I have still continued living in the same house, serving on staff at the same church, pursuing the same mission, sharing time with the same friends. But what I discovered through traveling the dark valley of grief was a clearer template of how a central major change ripples smaller changes into everything else.
In Deep Change, Robert Quinn identifies the kind of soul-jolting impact I encountered. This change, Quinn writes, requires new ways of thinking and behaving. It is change that is major in scope, discontinuous with the past, and generally irreversible. The deep change effort distorts existing patterns of action and involves taking risks. Deep change means surrendering control.and walking naked into the land of uncertainty (Jossey-Bass, 1996).
Quinn also defines another concept: incremental change. This type of change is more limited, is usually reversible, and keeps us in control. Incremental change is like painting the walls blue instead of yellow. Or maybe its a new style of haircut, frequenting a different grocery store, or switching from traditional to contemporary worship music on Sunday mornings. But certain important incremental changes are only possible as a byproduct of deep change.
God has taught me new truths on a personal level as Ive found my way through a deep change with Chucks death, and the resulting incremental changes Ive undergone. These truths have given me new eyes to see how they also apply to leading change as a ministry leader. My willingness as a leader to embrace deep change is what triggers healthy corresponding incremental spiritual and organizational changes to ripple out and fall into place within my church family. Here are some of the applications I see.
1. Deep change as a leader begins in my relationship with God. It is impossible to be a successful leader of change for or within my congregation without fully surrendering myself to the lordship of Jesus, the deepest change possible in all eternity. The lifelong active transformation process into Christs likeness brings a wave of ongoing incremental change into every area of my living and leading. I have to be willing to submit to these changes to begin to understand the mind, heart, and mission of God. Only then will I be able to discern, as a leader, Gods path of change and transformation for my church and its people.
2. My own change muscle, or practice of change, will be a contagious example for others. All true leadership begins with self-leadership. I cannot effectively set the stage for others spiritual deep change/incremental change processes without actively and transparently embracing it myself. My courage to undergo change inspires others with the courage to come along as well.
3. My entire church needs to be built around supporting change processes. We are called to invite others to deep eternal change through the gospel of Jesus. Everything about what we do needs to be organized to support this, plus the resulting incremental changes rippling into all aspects of peoples practical daily lives: relationships, finances, spiritual disciplines, service.
4. Sharing the stories of deep change in peoples individual lives in Christ helps bolster the courage of the congregation to embark on collective deep change. Hearing about Gods miraculous power of transformation in individuals creates the atmosphere of possibility of what God might want to do supernaturally through all of us together.
Yes, the concepts of deep change and incremental change apply not only to personal life, but to leading successful change in a ministry setting. As Paul wrote, If anyone is in Christ, you are a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Embracing deep change is a journey only God can empower us to take. Have confidence that the newness in store will be worth the trip!
Sue Nilson Kibbey is the executive pastor at Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio. She is the author of Ultimately Responsible and Transformation Journal.